After Game 1, my No. 1 takeaway was:
“The Heat’s execution is relentless. The Celtics’ is not.”
Copy and paste.
Friday night was another game where Jimmy Butler was the best player on the court, another game where the Heat executed what they wanted to do for 48 minutes and the Boston Celtics could not match it. The Heat are just dialed in on every screen, every rotation, every box out, they are doing all the little things for 48 minutes.
“It comes down to the details and margins,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “When we get a stop, when we force them into a difficult shot, we have to get the rebound. When we have open shots, we have to take them. When we draw two, we have to pass it.
“This is a series of discipline and mindset, and there was times throughout the game where we weren’t the more disciplined team.”
Especially the closing minutes. Miami took over late to get the 111-105 win and now leads the series 2-0 headed back home for Game 3 on Sunday.
Here are three takeaways from Game 2.
1) Jimmy Freakin’ Butler
As the Washington Post’s Michael Lee noted, back in the summer of 2019, Jimmy Butler had options. He was leaving a superstar pairing in Philly and big names were recruiting him. All around the NBA, superstars were teaming up — Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with the Clippers, Anthony Davis came to Los Angeles to partner with LeBron James, in Houston Russell Westbrook arrived to join MVP James Harden.
Jimmy Butler went his own route — no other stars. He went to Miami, where Dwyane Wade was retiring and Josh Richardson had been the leading scorer of a team that missed the playoffs. Butler, however, believed in the culture and the roster being built there with a young Bam Adebayo.
Butler looks prescient now.
Jimmy Butler was once again the best player on the floor in Game 2 — 27 points, eight rebounds, six assists and insanely high-level defense.
Jimmy Butler leads the @MiamiHEAT to a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals!
27 PTS, 8 REB, 6 AST, 3 STL, 2 BLK 🔥
Game 3: Sunday, 8:30 PM ET on TNT pic.twitter.com/fdbMIC5bt4
— NBA (@NBA) May 20, 2023
Butler was the driving force of the Heat’s closing run — more on that in item No. 2 — but it wasn’t just him.
Bam Adebayo had 22 points, 17 rebounds, nine assists (with just one turnover) and was a defensive force. The Celtics grabbed just four rebounds in the fourth quarter, Adebayo had eight by himself. And he was making plays in the clutch, too.
THE HUGE SLAM FROM BAM.
35.1 SECONDS LEFT ON TNT, HEAT BY 4! https://t.co/AdX3ENi609 pic.twitter.com/l2OBP936I7
— NBA (@NBA) May 20, 2023
Caleb Martin scored 25 points off the bench on 11-of-16 shooting. Gabe Vincent made a clutch jumper late. The execution of the Heat is not just one player, it is their team. All of them. And that relentless execution does not stop whether they are up 10 or down 10.
Trailing by double-digits in the 4th quarter in these playoffs…
Everybody else: 1-53
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 20, 2023
It is that team, that culture that drives them, that is why they are up 2-0 heading back to Miami.
2) Grant Williams decided to trash-talk Jimmy Butler. He chose poorly.
Williams finally got some minutes this series and was solid. More than just some points and rebounds, he was trying to bring the in-your-face intensity and energy the too-cool-for-school Celtics can lack for stretches. The Celtics need some of that.
He also took it a step too far.
Williams got in Jimmy Butler’s face with 6:22 left in the game, and he may not have wanted to give the best player so far in this series any extra motivation.
Jimmy Butler and Grant getting chippy 👀🍿 pic.twitter.com/qGACc9o2aH
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) May 20, 2023
From that moment on, Butler took over and the Heat closed the game on a 22-9 run to get the win. NBA Twitter let Williams have it, including a couple of his peers.
Gotta know when to talk and to who…Jimmy cookin Grant. And now he out lol
— Draymond Green (@Money23Green) May 20, 2023
Don’t poke the bear😂
— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) May 20, 2023
To be fair, Williams did not cost the Celtics this game — this kind of execution in the clutch is what the Heat have done all postseason, these kinds of collapses are something the Celtics did all season. Not the smartest move ever by Williams, but the Celtics’ issues are bigger than that one play.
3) Can Boston find some grit, some resilience? Four quarters’ worth?
While frustrated Celtics fans may feel differently, Boston has not been an outright disaster in this series. They have played good stretches. Jayson Tatum came out aggressive in Game 2 and had 11 points in the fourth quarter. There were stretches of sharp defense.
However, as noted at the top of this story, Miami brings its intensity for 48 minutes. The Heat are all resolve and grit. The Celtics fade in and out.
Tatum did not impact the fourth quarter much at all, finishing with five points in the final 12 minutes, all from the foul line as he was 0-of-3 from the floor. Jaylen Brown finished 7-of-23 shooting for 16 points for the game. Al Horford continued to struggle from 3 (0-of-3 in this game).
This isn’t all on coach Joe Mazzulla (although he has contributed to the issues). Maybe he could have been faster calling for aggressive doubles on Jimmy Butler, but when the Celtics did double Butler three times in the fourth, passed out of it and the Heat got clean looks from 3.
The thing is, the Celtics had these mental lapses and clutch issues last season as well under Ime Udoka. They felt shorter, but they were there.
Through two games, Miami has been tougher. Grittier. They are more ready to win an ugly playoff game. Their stars need to look themselves in the mirror and take over when it matters — not just some games, but every game. Boston has to search for answers to find that toughness in themselves, but that may be a job for the front office this summer the way things are headed.